Don Hume: Rowing Through the Great Depression

Photo of a sports team from Anacortes High School 1933

Local Boy Acclaimed When Washington’s Crew Won

(Anacortes Daily Mercury, 23 June 1936)

For the reason that Don Hume, former Anacortes lad, had the stroke seat of the University of Washington shell at the varsity race at Poughkeepsie yesterday, it was of special interest locally. Much depended on the former wearer of the purple and white, as he held the all-important seat, stroking his teammates to victory.

It was during the years he lived here that he laid the groundwork for his steady march toward a seat in the Husky shell. While he turned out for all sports and gained recognition in basketball and field events, it was rowing on Guemes Channel that interested him most, and the dream of his life was a seat in the University of Washington shell.

Don had his rowboat, and in his spare moments, winter and summer, he would test his strength against tide, wind and waves. When his (family) moved back to Olympia, Don packed a few belongings in his rowboat and headed for the capital. Not many would have attempted the voyage in a rowboat, but he had an objective, and this was an opportunity to test his stamina.

Don has other accomplishments. In addition to being an athlete and a fine student, he is a talented pianist and during his residence here contributed difficult classical numbers to musical programs.

The people of Anacortes were understandably proud of Don Hume even before the 1936 Olympics feat depicted in the book and film, Boys in the Boat, when these working-class Washingtonians’ gold medal victory over a German crew undermined Nazi propaganda, for a moment. Charles Stapp, Jr, a good friend of Hume, earlier shared Don’s inspiring story in the Anacortes American sports section, at a time when the UW Husky crew was bound for the Hudson River championships in 1935.

“The peasants weren't surprised to see you glide down the (Guemes) channel on numerous occasions, stripped to the waist, bending in rhythmic arcs over those sweeps, your bronzed back gleaming and rippling in the summer glare and your jaw set in an expression of determination, reflecting your iron-bound purpose and indominable will. When you left town, you had become so attached to that clinker of yours that you challenged time, tides and distance and traveled clear to Olympia in that eggshell with hardly enough food, a sail that was far too big and a cargo of worldly possessions that would have swamped an ordinary tub. All this was just an analogy of your spirit and courage.”

Puget Sounders are no strangers to historic maritime traditions flowing through Salish Sea channels. Waterways were the roads in these parts not so long before Hume took up oars here. Stories like Betty Lowman paddling from Anacortes to Alaska in her dugout, Bijaboji – or Chet Blackinton rowing Guemes Channel to and from football practice are typical of this era’s Pacific Northwest vibe.

Coast Salish canoe races, in nearby Coupeville and at the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community reservation, were annual events. During the years of Don Hume’s residence in Anacortes, the UW crew’s shell appeared in a “novelty race” against the famed canoe, Telegraph, at the 1931 Puget Indian Fair near La Conner, and it is easy to imagine the influence of attending these events on Don, as a teenager, watching immense crowds cheering on water sports.*

Be it maritime news, sports reports or drama and music reviews, the Hume family could hardly have been in the papers more during his four years in Anacortes, from mid-1930 to July of 1934. In March 1930, Don’s father, Bernie, resigned his job as “Executive Secretary” at the Olympia Chamber of Commerce, where he had been the organizer of the annual Olympia to Juneau yacht race. He came to Anacortes as bookkeeper at Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Co. and the family resided at 1219 Fourth Street, on cannery row just a few blocks from the Apex.

Within months, we learn of Don Hume’s very active music schedule, performing piano solos at a Rotary Club lunch in March of 1931, and at an event celebrating Swedish and Norwegian folklore and musical history as the Music Club’s newest member. That summer he performed with the Dodge Trio at a pre-bridge Deception Pass picnic attended by 3,000 people.

His mother, Ethel Hume, was just as active as her teenage son. In May, she represented the Anacortes PTA at a state meeting in Olympia, participated in the Women’s Club cooking school in the summer of 1931, and began directing a string of annual high school plays in the spring of 1932. She hosted events for Chapter W of the PEO and was active with her husband in the Three Table Bridge Club.

Don Hume’s entrance into Anacortes sports news began in 1931 as a Similk golf tourney competitor. He was a multi-sport athlete for the Seahawks, though not at anywhere near the stardom that would follow in his crew career. The 1932 headline, “Maple Court Stars Are Out At Local High” reported that “at center Don Hume may get the nod if a shoulder injury in football is well.” Don turned out for track in 1933, and the American boosted:

The standard bearers of the Sea Hawks began bearing down in hard working fashion for the big meet which will bring together the cream of the county’s track stars. Hume and Hill, weight men both hurled the discus out past the one hundred foot mark for their best efforts of the season. On one throw Hume approached the one hundred and twelve foot mark. In the shot put the lanky Hume again shown with a put of forty one feet seven inches.

In 1933, the Hume’s moved into Fred Fulton’s house at 12th Street and K Avenue soon after the canneryman’s death, just a few blocks from Anacortes High School, where Don was the Key Club President, presenting pins to Key Clubbers at the Kiwanis lunch and writing a nautical themed dedication to faculty in the AHS yearbook, The Rhododendron. The Famous Last Words column in the Anacortes High section of the newspaper lists Don Hume’s as: “Wish I had a banana.”

More headlines followed, like “Anacortes Broadcast Over Radio Stations” in April 1933: “Listeners over the radio station KVOS at Bellingham Sunday afternoon were loud in their praises of the broadcast given by the Fidalgo Octette from Anacortes, who put on a splendid program and were the stars for the afternoon.” The Octette included Mr. and Mrs. Ray B. Lowman, and Arthur Olson joined the broadcast, accompanied by Don Hume. They also appeared at an Elks banquet and the Eagles Lodge on Mother’s Day. Art Olson would later write in the Anacortes Daily Mercury (24 Feb 1936):

“Much has been written about Don Hume, former Anacortes boy, who last year stroked the University of Washington freshman crew to a national championship and who at the present time is stroking the varsity crew of the university. Here’s a little secret on the versatility of the lanky star, who bids fair to earn national recognition. Don is a concert pianist of no mean ability. Some half a dozen years ago he placed third in a state pianist contest. If the boys down at the crew house should get a little weary, Don should be able to fire them up with a few bars of Ill Trovatore or Pagliacci which this writer has heard him ramble off on the piano. How do I know? When yours truly was doing a little crooning a few years back, this same fellow, Don Hume, was our accompanist.”

Don performed and his mother directed the senior play in 1933, and the American reported, “Don Hume as Elmer Flannel carried out (his role) well, and the audience appreciated the talent presented. Miss Burdon presented Mrs. B F. Hume with a lovely bouquet of tulips as a token of appreciation for her work with the members of the cast. Mrs. Hume is generous of her time when it comes to working with the young people, and they appreciate it.”

Don and his dad were both involved in festivities around the visit of the USS Constitution to Anacortes in 1933, where “at each place lay the handsomely printed folder and a song sheet bearing the two original songs by Mrs. Lou Fulton and B. F. Hume, was inserted (see song lyrics below). The songs were sung during the evening, with Wallace W. Ferguson as song leader, and Mrs. W. V. Wells as the accompanist.” Art Olson also sang, again accompanied by Don.

Even after Don graduated from AHS, his mother continued volunteering there. “An unusual amount of talent was displayed in the Senior class play,” wrote the Anacortes American:

The three-act comedy, 'Peter Pops In', by Lindsey Barbee was admirably directed by Mrs. B. F. Hume. Each member of the cast seemed particularly suited to the part in which he was cast, and the fullest possibilities of each character was brought out. The result was a very clever and amusing play which was appreciated thoroughly by the large crowd in attendance.

By May 9, 1934, Bernie, Ethel and Dale had relocated to their Olympia summer home at Butler Cove. “After having spent four years in Anacortes as prominent citizens of the community, Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Hume and family will return to Olympia the latter part of the week where they had lived for seventeen years prior to their coming to Anacortes.” The Anacortes American of 26 April 1934 elaborated:

“Friends of the Hume’s will be sorry to see them leave for both Mr. and Mrs. Hume have been active in community and social affairs and Don, their older son, has been a popular member of the younger set. The dramatic circle will be particularly sorry to have Mrs. Hume leave them for she is well-known for her ability as a reader and other accomplishments in the field of drama. During her experience in Anacortes she has not only delighted many audiences with her own performances but she has successfully directed class plays given by the high school and by smaller amateur groups, and all who have worked with Mrs. Hume feel that they have been greatly benefited by her suggestions and criticism. Don Hume will probably remain here for a month or so before following his parents to Olympia. He has a position in the pulp mill here.”

These early years of the Great Depression led to intermittent closures at local timber mills. B. F. Hume was present, in interests of the pulp mill, at the Anacortes City Council in June 1933, when a modified contract for the reduction of the rates for water to be paid by the Puget Sound Pulp and Timber company was authorized; it was reported under a “Pulp Mill Gets Relief” headline. The fix helped to keep the mill operating another year.

What was Don thinking about his future while away from his family? He’d been working months at Puget Sound Pulp after graduation, and purging his lungs of the sulfurous fumes by regularly rowing in the waters surrounding Anacortes. Don remained in the house at 1501 12th Street as family/mill friends, the Everitts, moved into the Fulton place after the Humes relocated. He lost his job when the mill closed in mid-1934.

Did he see the UW crew picture and article in the Anacortes American that ran in June, coincidentally printed above the Port Townsend tide tables? He made a visionary decision, to row home to Olympia from Anacortes in his clinker in July 1934. A year later he was headed to Poughkeepsie, stroke of UW’s frosh crew, and making his old friends in Anacortes proud.

*(Note: referred to as a novelty race likely because the boats and race methods are so different between a crew shell and a war canoe, they aren’t meant to compete)

Above: song written by Don Hume’s father.

Originally posted: Rowing through the Great Depression Don Hume’s Life in Anacortes before Boys in the Boat on Resounding - Harry Smith in NW Washington